Editorial Roundup: Iowa

Des Moines Register. Jan. 9, 2021.

Editorial. Yes, vaccines are on the way. No, this is not the time to let your guard down. Governor, give us more information.

The novel coronavirus doesn’t care that a new year is supposed to offer a new start. It doesn’t care about our pandemic fatigue. It is as deadly as ever.

That means now is not the time to gather in restaurants, attend gun shows, board airplanes, meander through malls or convene a state legislature. Now is not the time to let our guard down.

Just the opposite. We should be extra vigilant about physical distancing, wearing masks, washing hands and not sharing air. December was a national nightmare in this country by every measure of the pandemic.

Over 6.3 million new COVID-19 cases were recorded, the most in a single month so far. Hospitalizations hit yet another record. Nearly 78,000 people died, including hundreds of Iowans. Mutations in the virus may make it easier to transmit to others.

December brought yet another high-profile reminder that younger people without pre-existing health conditions can succumb to the virus. Louisiana Congressman-elect Luke Letlow died from COVID-19 complications at the age of 41.

January could be worse after record airline travel during the holidays. You may not know for several days after a Christmas or New Year’s gathering if you escaped unscathed. As of Thursday morning, Iowa was reporting 4,065 COVID-19-related deaths.

More Iowans have died from COVID-19 in 10 months than died of diabetes, influenza, Alzheimer’s, breast cancer, suicide and pneumonia combined in all of 2019.

Yes, vaccines are a welcome light at the end of the tunnel.

Thanks to dedicated scientists around the world, the United States so far has two approved vaccines — from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna — that do an exceptional job at preventing illness from the virus. (It is not yet clear whether the shots prevent viral transmission and asymptomatic infections.) People need two doses of the vaccines, and it takes weeks to realize maximum protection.

The existence of these vaccines should not lead to complacency about precautions. It should motivate us to double down. Do you want to contract this virus — or die from its complications — mere weeks or months before it’s your turn for a shot?

But Iowans need more information about when we can expect to get those shots.

The Trump administration’s goal of getting 20 million people the first dose of a two-shot vaccine regimen by the end of 2020 didn’t happen. Not even close. As of Jan. 6, more than 17.2 million doses had been distributed, but only 5.3 million people had received their first shot.

A lack of centralized federal response means states are on their own to figure out how to allocate and administer vaccines — the same way states largely went it alone to find ventilators, organize testing and procure protective equipment.

So what is Iowa doing on the vaccine front?

As of Thursday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported Iowa had received more than 121,000 doses of vaccine and administered 66,051 shots.

Gov. Kim Reynolds’ administration deserves credit for an early plan that prioritizes vaccinating health care workers and people in long-term care facilities. Her administration deserves criticism, however, for shutting the public out of meetings where decisions are being made about who can get shots next.

We need to hear more from the governor, who has not held a news conference since before Christmas.

People are calling doctors offices, pharmacies and county public health offices seeking information about when they can get vaccinated.

Iowans need information. We need regular updates from Reynolds to understand what is going on behind the scenes and what to expect. Among the questions she and her staff should answer:

How is Iowa prioritizing vaccines?

Why doesn’t the state simply adopt the prioritization for vaccines outlined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention?

Are vaccine providers sitting on doses waiting for permission from the state to give shots to the next “approved” group, whoever that is going to be?

When can those at highest risk of serious complications, including seniors and people with chronic illnesses, expect shots? Is a young, healthy cashier going to be eligible for an immunization before a 70-year-old who has been afraid to leave his house for nine months?

Are the more than 250,000 Iowans whom the state identifies as “recovered” going to wait longer for a vaccine because they may have developed protective antibodies?

Are Iowa health workers who received their first doses in mid-December receiving their second doses on time? Clinical trials on the two vaccines showed they were highly effective when delivered in two doses separated by three or four weeks. Less is known about effectiveness if the second dose is delayed.

Can someone who received a Pfizer vaccine for the first dose receive a Moderna vaccine for the second dose?

Some states are reporting challenges in rolling out the vaccine, from phone system crashes to long lines. What, if any, challenges is Iowa experiencing?

Can the Test Iowa program, which has the staff and infrastructure to conduct viral testing across the state, be used for mass inoculation?

While some Iowans don’t want a vaccine, those individuals should be the least of our collective concern right now. The focus must be on getting needles into the arms of the many, many Iowans who do.

It’s up to each of us to be as safe as possible while we’re waiting. And it’s up to the governor to provide more information.

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Dubuque Telegraph Herald. Jan. 6, 2021.

Editorial: Iowa must support mental health system reform through funding

In 2018, Iowa lawmakers and Gov. Kim Reynolds made monumental strides in the area of mental health.

Acting with unanimity and listening to the voices of Iowans in pain, the Legislature passed a measure to fill in gaps and provide a safety net in the state’s mental health system. The plan embraced the work of a group of mental health stakeholders who researched and debated for months until reaching a recommendation that the state establish regional access centers.

When the governor signed off on the legislation, mental health advocates hailed the move as a huge win, though everyone knew there was more work to be done.

Then, in 2019, work began anew — this time with progress made in the area of a children’s mental health system. Again, advocates were pleased with the effort, but they also showed concern because the establishment of the system came without state funding attached.

That, all agreed, would be rectified in 2020. It started with Governor Reynolds’ Condition of the State speech a year ago, in which she outlined a plan to shift mental health funding to the state by way of a 1% sales tax increase. This would come in tandem with a reduction in property taxes through the Invest in Iowa Act. The plan was pegged to generate $80 million that could be poured into much-needed mental health services.

And then came the dominant force of 2020, COVID-19. Suddenly, any growth momentum in the state screeched to a halt. Money the Invest in Iowa Act was supposed to bring in dwindled. Before long, the legislative session was suspended, and only critically mandatory work got done.

Meanwhile, the need for mental health services was only exacerbated amid the pandemic. That need continues.

A recent virtual meeting hosted by Community Foundation of Greater Dubuque allowed local advocates to discuss brain-health needs they see in the region. Advocates described longstanding challenges such as limited access to services in rural communities as well as the massive disruption the pandemic has caused in the lives of school-age children. Educators and other stakeholders described an “exponential increase” in youth counseling needs.

Adults are similarly in crisis, facing unprecedented isolation, vital concern for their own health and safety and that of those they love, financial difficulties and job insecurity. In 2020, 1 in every 5 Iowans reported being impacted by heightened mental health issues amid the pandemic. At the same time, state mental health leaders say Iowa ranks 48th among its peers for the number of mental health providers available.

The list of businesses, organizations and groups negatively impacted by COVID-19 is nearly endless. The Iowa Legislature will no doubt hear many compelling stories this session from Iowans who are hurting and in need. But the need for funding the reform of the state’s mental health system cannot be put off.

In the spirit of the triumphant effort to work toward mental health reform in 2018, lawmakers must keep the momentum going by supporting the state’s system through funding.

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Fort Dodge Messenger. Jan. 7, 2021.

Editorial: The Christmas spirit of giving should continue throughout the year. The needs don’t end when the holiday season concludes

Every year around the holidays, the generosity of people who live in and around Fort Dodge blossoms.

The familiar red kettles of The Salvation Army get filled with change by people going in and out of stores. Donations flow for initiatives like Coats for Kids.

Those are some of the best-known helping campaigns in the Fort Dodge area that ramp up at Christmas time, and we’re sure there are others out there as well.

The holiday season is now over. Volunteers are no longer standing next to red kettles ringing bells. Other programs have gone dormant until next Christmas.

But the need is still there.

Hunger, sickness, poverty and other woes don’t disappear when the Christmas lights get packed away. Organizations like The Salvation Army fight those issues all year long.

That fight is conducted out of the public view, for the most part, and it requires funding. Helping the hungry, sick and downtrodden never gets any cheaper.

The generosity that’s a cherished part of the Christmas spirit gives charitable organizations a big shot in the arm every year. But as the year progresses, there really isn’t any other season, holiday or event that spurs an outpouring of donations. And all through the year, various groups are still laboring away to help our neighbors.

Those groups may struggle with their finances as the year goes on. That shouldn’t have to happen.

While Christmas is over, it is not time for people to close their hearts and their billfolds.

We urge people to donate to worthy causes, especially local ones, all through the year. Donations, even small ones, spread out over an entire year can mean a lot. Charitable organizations and the people they serve will be grateful.

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